“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of here” are exactly the kind of comforting words that you need when you’ve fallen in a dense, wooded area and have broken your leg. And they’re exactly the words I heard from the professional, comforting team at Wiltshire Search and Rescue this weekend.
It had started as a normal Sunday exercise. I’ve been part of the team since October, supporting the organisation with voluntary public relations support (speaking to the media and making sure our Facebook page, Twitter and LinkedIn are updated). As part of my immersion into Wiltshire Search and Rescue, it became apparent very early on that for me to fully understand the workings of a search, and what happens when we find vulnerable and missing people, I needed to learn how to become a Search Technician. So along with about 20 other new trainees I’ve been spending every Wednesday evening and most Sundays learning the amazing array of skills needed to be a professional Search Technician. We’ve learned basic life support, water awareness, how to search a route and path, how to area search, how to use a radio, casualty care, using throw lines, what kit we carry, how to search efficiently, how to respond to a call-out and yesterday, we were putting it all into practice above Devizes at Roundway Hill.
My team of five were searching a wooded area for our ‘missing’ person – a lady called ‘Julie’ who was known to be depressed and who had been missing for nearly 24 hours. It was a common scenario that the team would be called to – in fact in 2016, Wiltshire Search and Rescue volunteers were called out 51 times, giving over 10,000 hours of voluntary time supporting Wiltshire Police and occasionally other county’s police forces too. We were spread out over a steep area, looking in front, to the side and behind us all the way through the wood. The terrain was quite challenging but the Team Leader made sure we were all safe which is always our first concern, as we can’t help our missing person if we’re down a team member because of a sprained ankle….
Then the call came over the radio that I needed to get back to the control vehicle immediately. After a quick consultation with the other team members, it was agreed that I shouldn’t go back on my own so another member came with me, leaving the three to continue the search for ‘Julie’.
What none of the 35 others on the exercise realised was that I was about to become the casualty! Planned in advance to test our team’s advanced medical skills and their understanding of how to ‘package’ and ‘extract’ a casualty, I now had to walk away from the route and ‘break’ my leg.
We called my fall into the control van – an incredibly sophisticated vehicle where our Search Planner and Search Manager sit and liaise with the police about our ongoing search. They reassured us that help was on the way, and sure enough within about 10 minutes it was our medical lead who came striding through the woods with kit, team members and his comforting words.
The situation, and my condition, were assessed using the Primary Survey which works through a series of checks to assess danger, response of the casualty, injuries and next steps. I was quickly comforted by team members as our Medical Lead got to work finding out what had happened. Throughout I felt in completely safe hands, and each step was explained to me as my boots were removed and my entirely fictitious broken leg was put in a splint ready for me to be moved to a stretcher and carried out of the woods to the waiting ambulance.
The Team’s care and concern was evident but what was most apparent was the calm professionalism of all involved. I was moved from the ground into an emergency blanket (like a huge orange duvet) then the basket stretcher was moved underneath me, before the team moved me out of the wood. Even though I weigh 12 stone the small team managed to expertly manoeuvre me over the rough ground, through a barbed wire fence and across a ploughed field before they walked to the road to meet the approaching ambulance.
It was an incredibly interesting experience and one which most of us will hopefully never have to live through. But in order to understand what it must be like to be an injured, scared, missing person it was invaluable. Thank you Wiltshire Search and Rescue for everything you do and I’m extremely proud to be part of the organisation.
If you’re interested in joining Wiltshire Search and Rescue as a volunteer then please take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.